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技术能否解决航班延误问题?

Tracey Lindeman 2020年01月06日

航班延误每年给美国造成近300亿美元的损失。科技能在多大程度上解决这个问题?

2019年11月27日星期三,弗吉尼亚州阿灵顿的罗纳德·里根国家机场(DCA),旅客排队等候办理行李托运。
图片来源:ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

放假去哪都不如回家,当然前提是你得能回去。

杏耀平台美国运输统计局的数据显示,冬季假期期间航班延误非常普遍。2018年12月27日至28日,美国只有约61%的航班准点抵离,较正常准点率低18个百分点。

杏耀平台这可怪不得登机口的工作人员。飞机晚点抵达是造成大多数航班延误的主要原因,其次就是航空公司的问题,例如机组、清洁、维护、高客流等,此外还有恶劣天气的影响。为了争夺客运航空业务,航空公司不断加推新的航班和低价机票,也让航线拥堵问题日益严重。

航班延误每年给美国造成近300亿美元的损失。乘客误工损失仅占其中一半,其余损失主要包括改签费用、旅客补偿和机组费用。截至2019年12月中旬,美国人已经因为航班延误而浪费了7500万分钟的时间。

像芝加哥奥黑尔机场、拉瓜迪亚机场和洛杉矶国际机场这些繁忙机场,如果你觉得它们已经饱受航班延误和航线拥堵的困扰,那等到2037年你就会知道什么才是真的堵。

杏耀平台国际航空运输协会(IATA)表示,到2037年,全球航空客运量将从2019年的46亿人次增加到每年82亿人次。大部分增长将来自亚太和非洲等发展中市场,其中北美地区客运量也将增至14亿人次。

未来,机场将不堪重负。虽然航空公司增加了航班来提升运力,但空域和机场基础设施的扩容能力有限。国际机场协会安全、简易化和IT事务主管妮娜·布鲁克斯表示,为了避免即将来临的混乱局面,并更好地管理机场交通,航空公司与其合作伙伴正在推动技术研发进程,主要涉及以下三个方面:

第一,外迁机场部分功能。例如,远程托运服务,出发前从旅客家中、工作单位或某一指定地点直接取走行李。然后,通过追踪服务确保到达目的地后行李可以顺利回到旅客手中。

第二,自动化。例如对行李托运、身份查验及资料审核等业务进行自动化升级。国际航空运输协会简易化事务主管席琳·卡努表示,在不久以后,乘客可以在家中用手机扫描电子护照芯片,再从不同角度拍几张自拍,面部识别系统就能从人群中识别出乘客本人。整个行业正在推动从护照转向数字出行证件(DTC)的“简易化”进程,并在未来数年内分阶段实施。

杏耀平台美国一些机场试图引入人脸识别系统,但进展并不顺利。即便如此,大家依然认为通过在海关区域、甚至是整个机场安装使用摄像头能够减少安全和移民方面的瓶颈。

第三,数据金矿。

布鲁克斯表示:“数据是推动行业变革的动力之源,它可以帮助我们提升协作水平,预测何时会出现客流量高峰、哪些旅客即将抵达、运抵的行李有多少等等,有了数据,我们可以更灵活的分配资源,同时也能够更好地协调相关部门。”

由于机场各项运营工作分属多个合作方,而并非由结构精简的单一机构管理,因此,很容易产生诸如航班延误这样的问题。而数据共享是布鲁克斯所谓“全面机场管理方法”的重要一环,在理想情况下,这一措施能够有效提升机场运营效率、减少航班周转时间(飞机从降落到再次起飞的时间),从而增加单位时间内飞机起降数量。

伊拉·格什科夫是一名航空公司运营系统顾问,就职于航空市场研究公司T2RL。他表示,这些技术创新可能会改善飞行体验,但不确定能否提升航空公司的盈利能力。

他说:“航空公司在机场的人工成本已经大幅削减,这里也没有太多潜力可以挖掘。”

目前,航空业的核心工作还是营收最大化。一个主要原因是:扣除通货膨胀影响后,如今实际票价较1998年时低了59%。尽管需求在增加,利润却依然持续减少。为了应对这一问题,许多航空公司都在试图提升客运量。所以我们看到的是:每天都有更多航班起降,尤其是在高峰时段新增许多短途区域航班,票价低廉到足以让每一个航班都坐满乘客。

航空公司的这种策略促使更多人放弃大巴或火车,从而选乘飞机出行。交通运输工程师、芝加哥伊利诺伊大学教授邹波(音译)认为,这会让机场面临更严峻的拥堵和延误风险。随着航班数量的不断增加,如何高效调度就成了格外复杂的问题。

新的航空调度、干扰管理和飞机定位监控技术可以帮助疏解机场的部分压力,容纳更多航班,这对维持机场的正常运转至关重要。例如,美国正在开发新一代空中交通管制系统ADS-B,该项目目前处于收尾阶段,将使用基于GPS的卫星跟踪系统取代传统的地面雷达系统。新系统启用后将能有效缩短飞机之间的飞行间距,从而增加空域容量。

旅行技术公司Amadeus负责航空公司战略咨询的副总裁吉姆·巴洛表示,飞行排班与客流管控软件也可以帮助航空公司提升效率,从而节省大笔资金。他在一封电子邮件中写道:“通过使用专门软件优化排班,航空公司可以增加相当于其年营收1%至3%的收入,如果全行业推行,则能为其带来数十亿美元的产值。”

杏耀平台尽管有了这些创新,但由于单一航班出错或延误导致后续航班大面积延误的案例仍然屡见不鲜。邹波说:“某一航班出现延误可能会导致其他航班也无法按时抵离,有点像乘数效应。”

迈克尔·拜亚达是一名资深飞行员,现任航空管理解决方案公司ATH集团的总裁。他表示,目前延误传播管理仍然停留在局部层面,无法形成更广泛的涟漪效应。缺乏系统性解决方案也会造成“喷气动力式堵塞”。

杏耀平台“就像下课铃响后,上百个孩子同时冲向门口一样。”

杏耀平台技术可以帮助航空业部分解决航班延误和其他一些问题,但要想满足未来的需求,除了对效率低下的现有系统做些修修补补,还需要进行更实质性的改变。未来或许需要兴建更多的机场基础设施以应对不断增加的客流量,例如跑道、候机大厅、航站楼,甚至是机场。

但是,正如我们在高速公路上看到的那样,增加车道并不会减少车流量,实际上往往会吸引更多车辆上路。对于客运航空而言,日益繁忙的机场和天空可能也意味着会出现更多航班延误。格什科夫说:“越来越多的机场会进入高负荷运转的状态,全球机场运力将濒于饱和。”

杏耀平台不管怎么看,航空业所面临的困境都是自食其果。作为一个以变革缓慢而著称的行业,它那些雄心勃勃的想法到2037年都未必能得到广泛推行。

杏耀平台因此,如果在未来17年内的某个时间您打算乘飞机出行,请系好安全带:航班延误情况短期内难见好转,可能只会更糟。(财富中文网)

丹·卡其波尔对本文亦有贡献。

译者:梁宇

审校:夏林

杏耀平台There’s no place like home for the holidays—if you can get there.

杏耀平台Airport delays are so common during the winter holiday season that on Dec. 27 and 28 of last year, American travelers had only about a 61% chance of departing or arriving on time, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That’s 18 percentage points lower than 2018’s normal on-time performance.

杏耀平台Don’t blame the gate agents. Year-round, most delays are caused by aircraft arriving late, followed by carrier problems like staffing, cleaning, maintenance, heavy traffic volume, and bad weather. Congestion, in particular, is a growing problem as airlines jockey for passengers’ business with more departures and rock-bottom airfares.

Together, these delays cost the United States nearly $30 billion a year. The cost of passengers’ lost time constitutes half that figure, with rebooking fees, passenger compensation, and staffing making up the bulk of the remainder. So far in 2019, delays have eaten up 75 million minutes of U.S. passengers’ time.

But if you think busy airports like Chicago O’Hare, LaGuardia, and LAX are troubled with delays and congestion now, just wait until 2037.

That’s when the International Air Travel Association (IATA) says global passenger air travel will reach 8.2 billion passengers a year, up from 2019’s estimated 4.6 billion—“passengers” is defined by total origin-destination journeys, not unique individuals. While the majority of gains will be in developing markets like Asia-Pacific and Africa, 1.4 billion of those future passengers will be traveling in North America.

杏耀平台The airport crunch is coming. Even as airlines add flights to accommodate the increase in passengers, airspace and infrastructure can be stretched only so far. To head off the impending chaos, airlines and partners are pursuing three main technology themes aimed at managing airport traffic, said Nina Brooks, director of security, facilitation, and IT at Airport Council International (ACI).

The first is moving things away from the airport, such as remote baggage collection. For instance, a luggage collection service would pick up bags from people at home, work, or at a downtown location prior to travel. Then, tracking services would work to ensure travelers are reunited with their bags at their final destination.

The second is automation, as in automated bag drop, ID verification, and document checking. IATA’s head of facilitation Céline Canu said that not too far off in the future, some passengers will be able to scan their e-passport chips at home using their smartphones, then take a few selfies from several angles—enough to train a biometric facial recognition system to pick passengers out of a crowd. This is part of an industry-wide movement away from passports and toward digital travel credentials (DTC, or “facilitation” in industry parlance), which will be introduced in stages over the next several years, said Canu.

杏耀平台Some attempts to introduce facial recognition at U.S. airports have not gone very smoothly so far. Even so, the thinking is that it will reduce bottlenecks at security and immigration by using cameras in the customs area and perhaps even around the airport.

The third, data, is the industry’s golden ticket.

杏耀平台“That really is the game-changer, allowing us to become more coordinated and to be able to predict when the peaks are going to come, who’s coming, what volume of baggage is coming, to be able to be more flexible with resources and better coordinated between all the different parties,” Brooks said.

杏耀平台Because various components of airport operations are managed by multiple partners and not one single, streamlined entity, a lot can fall through the cracks and cause problems such as delays. Sharing data is integral to what Brooks called a “total airport management approach,” which, in an ideal scenario, would make operations so efficient that airports could reduce turnaround times (the time between when a flight lands and takes off again) and process more aircraft.

Ira Gershkoff, a consultant on airlines’ operations systems at airline market research firm T2RL, said these innovations may improve the experience of flying, but he isn’t so sure these technologies will improve profitability.

杏耀平台“Airlines have already cut a good chunk of their airport labor cost, and there’s not that much more productivity to be gained there,” he said.

杏耀平台Right now, the airline industry is focused on revenue maximization. A major reason for that is because airplane tickets cost 59% less today than in 1998, after inflation. That has resulted in dwindling profits, even as demand grows. To make up for the shortfalls, many carriers look for ways to drive up passenger volume. This can look like more flights per day, especially increasing short-haul regional flights during peak times, with fares cheap enough to fill the airplanes up as much as possible.

This airline strategy encourages more people to travel by plane instead of by bus or train. Bo Zou, a transportation engineer and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies delay propagation in air travel, said that approach can expose airports to greater congestion and delay challenges. With more and more time-sensitive moving parts, orchestrating a high level of efficiency becomes incredibly complicated.

New approaches to airplane scheduling, disruption management, and aircraft positioning surveillance can help alleviate some of the strain and accommodate new traffic, which are imperatives for staying in business. The U.S.-based NextGen program, for instance, is in the last stage of switching air traffic control from legacy ground-based radar systems to GPS-based satellite tracking. The new system, known as ADS-B, will help aircraft fly closer to one another, which would increase airspace capacity.

Jim Barlow, vice president of airline strategic consulting at travel technology company Amadeus, said scheduling and passenger-flow software can also help airlines recoup big money by buttoning up inefficiencies. “Those that are successfully optimizing their schedules in this way can capture around 1%–3% of their annual revenue, which represents billions of dollars across the industry as a whole,” he said in an email.

Despite these innovations, it’s still not uncommon for one mistake or late arrival in the morning to cause cascading delays across a whole day’s operations. “The delay of one aircraft can propagate—spread out—to more flights, so that’s kind of a multiplier effect,” said Zou.

Michael Baiada, a longtime airline pilot and now president of airline management solutions company ATH Group, said managing delay propagation currently happens at too local a level to manage wider ripple effects. The lack of a system-wide solution can create a jet-powered traffic jam.

杏耀平台"It’s like ringing the bell for the end of recess: A hundred kids rush for the door,"

杏耀平台Technology can help solve some elements of delays and other aviation problems, but it’ll take more than layering bells and whistles on top of an inefficient existing system to make the kind of meaningful change required to meet future demand. At some point more airport infrastructure—new runways, concourses, terminals, and even airports—will need to be built to accommodate future passengers.

However, as we’ve seen on highways, adding lanes does not equal less traffic; it actually means even more cars. For passenger air travel, busier airports and skies could mean even more delays. “More and more airports will be slot-constrained, and this will mean that there will be little slack in airport capacity around the world,” said Gershkoff.

In many ways, the airline industry is the maker of its own misery. The industry is notoriously slow to change, so widespread implementation of all its great ideas may not even be complete by 2037.

杏耀平台So, if you’re planning on flying sometime in the next 17 years, buckle up: Delays may get worse before they get better.

Dan Catchpole contributed reporting to this article.

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